Daggers drawn over prorogation protest

 

ABC-linked UTTA accused of planning to stop next week’s LCD-led march 

Billy Ntaote and Bongiwe Zihlangu

Lesotho will sit on a knife edge on Monday as the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) embarks on protests to force Prime Minister Thomas Thabane to end the prorogation (suspension) of Parliament amid fears that the planned demonstrations may turn violent.

The organisers of the protests and Dr Thabane’s All Basotho Convention (ABC) traded accusations of skulduggery this week as LCD leader Mothetjoa Metsing rallied his supporters to report for the protests in large numbers to send a strong message to the premier that he can no longer keep Parliament shut.

Mr Metsing faced accusations that, even though he had declared that the Monday protests would be largely peaceful, his party wanted to create chaos and create conditions for the army to intervene and stage a coup against Dr Thabane. The LCD strongly denies the charges.

The LCD has rallied supporters and leaders of other congress movement political parties, mainly the Democratic Congress (DC), Lesotho People’s Congress (LPC), Basotho Congress Party (BCP), Basotho Batho Congress Party (BBDP), to join in the Monday protests.

Police sources told the Lesotho Times that they believed organisers of the protests planned to divert from the normally prescribed routes for such protests in an attempt to cause mayhem at the government complex, where the Prime Minister’s office is located.

Dr Thabane’s spokesman, Thabo Thakalekoala, said he had heard information that the organisers of the protests planned to deviate from the routes prescribed by the police and to generally disobey any guidelines stipulated for the protests and cause mayhem by attempting to gain access to the government complex through the VIP entrance.
Mr Thakalekoala said the police would be left with no choice but to take stern action against any “criminal transgressions”.
He said the LCD, as a member of the coalition government, had an obligation to act responsibly and avoid creating conditions of anarchy.

Mr Metsing had earlier in the week rebuffed allegations that his party is trying to coax the army into intervening in the current crisis saying “the military does not protect any political party but the general public and the country’s constitution”.

He said if his party was assured of military support, then it would not have opted for the march in the first place, but instead just relied on that support.
“The military has its own duties and this march is about politics….this is a march done in the name of democracy.”
Bokang Ramatšella, the spokesperson of the LPC, which is helping the LCD in organising Monday’s protests, accused a youth group aligned to the ABC called ‘Under
The Tree Army’ or UTTA, of planning to stop Monday’s protests violently, charges denied by the group’s spokesmen.

Mr Ramatšella, who was arrested a day after granting the Lesotho Times an interview, reportedly on sedition charges, also claimed to have received death threats from UTTA members.
“We know about plans to kidnap me, as well as Teboho Sekata and Ramahooana Matlosa (LCD members who have been publicising the protest march), and possibly kill us, although we have not reported the threats to the police,” said Mr Ramatšella.

“Our sources have told us that UTTA members are behind this plan, and that the main issue is next Monday’s protest, which has since been publicly confirmed by the LCD, who are leading it.”
According to Mr Ramatšella, UTTA members had become increasingly “agitated and insecure” after congress parties decided to unite in their opposition to Dr Thabane’s prorogation of parliament.
“The UTTA guys realise that their days of taking advantage of their political connections to make money are now numbered, and have decided to do something about it.
“That is why they believe by taking out somebody like myself, as well as Sekata and Matlosa, they have removed the biggest threats to their flamboyant lifestyles.

“They realise they won’t be getting all these government tenders they were now having access to anymore, should the current government be removed from power through a vote-of-no-confidence in parliament, hence their determination to make sure next week’s march calling for parliament to re-open, does not go ahead.
“We have heard that UTTA will make sure this protest is disrupted and that the petition calling for the reopening of parliament is never delivered to the prime minister ……..”
Mr Ramatšella insisted parliament should be re-opened as a matter of urgency, so it could continue with its role of holding the executive accountable.

However, a high-ranking member of UTTA, Mokherane Tsatsanyane, dismissed Mr Ramatšella’s allegations as “unfounded and a complete fabrication”, saying the organisation had no plans to either kidnap nor kill anyone nor disrupt the Monday protests.

“From the start, we were considered a radical wing of the ABC, which acted as the armed force of the party, simply because of our name.
“We have tried to dismiss such assumptions, but to no avail.
“We have actually clashed with the army about this, but we have made it clear that we are not an armed group,” Mr Tsatsanyane said.
“UTTA was formed following the highly contested ABC National Executive Committee (NEC) elections held early this year, which were characterised by too many factions vying for top posts.
“This left the ABC youths in disarray and deeply divided, and we then came together in an effort to unite.
“We met under a tree, at a place just near the Bishop John Paul II Monument, hence the name Under The Tree Army, or UTTA in short.”
Mr Tsatsanyane said it was true UTTA members were all staunch supporters of the ABC.
“Yes, we are ABC diehards and have instilled a sense of patriotism among our members by uniting them.
“This is why we are ready to defend our party when it is being threatened, but we won’t do anything illegal,” said Mr Tsatsanyane.
Mr Tsatsanyane said the LCD protesters were free to exercise their democratic right but warned they should desist from “provocative actions when dealing with the ABC”.
“There are some people who are out to provoke us into being violent, which was never the reason why we formed UTTA in the first place,” Mr Tsatsanyane said.
“The fact of the matter is people fear our unity because our members have never been involved in any violence, let alone the so-called kidnappings these people are talking about.”
Mr Tsatsanyane’s sentiments were echoed by the ABC Youth League leader, Taelo Ntsobotsane, who is also a member of UTTA.
“In the ABC, we have many organisations such as UTTA, the Resource Group and LESCO.

“To prove to you that we are not soldiers, you will realise that most of these groups are dominated by intellectuals,” Mr Ntsobotsane angrily said.
“We have never kidnaped anyone and we have no plans to do so.”
However, Mr Ntsobotsane said when the ABC is under threat, all its “affiliates” come together to defend the party.

“In fact, we will be holding a Youth Policy Conference in TY this coming weekend, where we will be discussing policies to adopt regarding the economic and political emancipation of Basotho youths.
“This conference is the brainchild of UTTA and the Resource Group, and is not about kidnappings as suggested by our critics,” Mr Ntsobotsane said.
“We are not going to TY to plot how to deal with the marchers, but simply discuss youth development.
“But if there is a suggestion that we should talk about the protest, we will do so without fear.”
Meanwhile, Mr Ramatšella is in police custody although it is not clear what he has been arrested for.
His party alleges he is being held over sedition charges over statements he made on radio over the Monday protests.
The protests are the culmination of constant feuding between Dr Thabane and Mr Metsing in the coalition they formed after the May 2012 elections failed to produce an outright winner.
Dr Thabane suspended parliament after Mr Metsing joined forces with the DC to pass a vote of no confidence in his leadership. Relations between the two now seem to have broken down irretrievably.

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